If you have ever seen a Blackhawk Christian postseason run, then you know this is a kind of “duh” statement: the quest for a state title isn’t completely centered around the top performer.
I know, shocking right?
So as much as this team is different and things feel different, the Braves are rooted in what the Braves have always been rooted in: having multiple guys that can alter the game in multiple ways. It is why they are cruising through the postseason right now. Slow them down and the Braves will walk. Speed them up and the Braves will run. Their schedule is diverse, and it has lent itself to building a diverse lineup who can do – you guessed it – diverse things.
They scored 39 points and played 6 players to beat Adams Central for a Sectional title. They scored 75, playing six guys to beat Lewis Cass for a Semi State title. When they dominated Tipton in the Regional, they went nine deep throughout that game.
The changes we’ve seen this season start with the senior group. None of them have allowed themselves to be pigeonholed into a role based on how they had performed in past seasons.
We knew that Gage Sefton was a star coming into this season and he was part of Outside the Huddle’s First Five in the preseason for a reason. Sefton can just go, and he can score off the dribble and he can knock down big shots and you always have to have a hand in his face as you try to contest him; even then, he usually just scores. Yet, he has still changed too and become a dominant lead guard whose vision has shown enhancements this season. That is the MO for Braves teams that make state title runs: the emergence of a point guard full of grit and improvement all season. Sefton’s 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game are just as important as his 16.6 points.
Fellow senior Josh Furst shouldn’t be labeled as a breakout player because he’s always been a critical piece in his time as a varsity player. Yet, this too feels like a different Furst; dominant around the rim with a second and third wind most nights that has changed games. Six times this season, he has shot over 80 percent from the field and five more times over 70 percent. He is so consistent that his three straight post season games shooting in the 50’s seemed like a downturn; in fact, his 4 of 9 shooting against Evansville Christian (44%) was a season low. Furst has also shot 79 percent from the free throw line while shooting the most shots there on the team (108/136).
Consistency, as Furst yields, is critical for Blackhawk Christian. They shot 74 percent from the field as a team in the win over Lewis Cass. 74 percent isn’t easy for one person, let alone a team. Sefton shot 92 percent, Furst 83 and junior Isaac Smith was at 71.
Smith has been a big shot in the arm for the Braves because he can flat outshoot the ball. His ability to hit from anywhere has opened up the floor significantly for the inside tandem of Furst and Kellen Pickett, as well as Sefton on the drive. When teams collapse to try and stop those three top scorers, they can only do so if they choose to sag off Smith, who is arguably one of the most dangerous shooters in Northeast Indiana; and if there is an argument, it isn’t a good one. He has hit 79 threes this season at a 40 percent success rate; hitting 15 in the last four Braves games alone.
Smith has hit 4 or more threes on six occasions this season, including a game with 8 makes against Michigan City, and there are only two games where he hasn’t connected from long range.
Pickett too has grown, physically and with his talent level. He is stronger and smarter everywhere on the floor. A bit of a prodigy as a freshman, Pickett is now an intimidating force as one of the best underclassmen in the state of Indiana. Averaging 13.7 points and a team high 8.3 rebounds, there is no place safe for a defender when Pickett is looking to score. He is second on the team in three pointers made and he hits 43 percent of them; he is third on the team in two pointers and he hits 52 percent of those. When the 6-foot-8 kid steps out and buries threes, you have a problem as an opposing high school team.
Those four are at the top of every scouting report. Everyone knows about them. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to them because they have all upped their games and level of skill significantly not just in the last year but during the course of this season, one full of change and emotionally charged moments for Blackhawk Christian.
Emotionally fueled Jimmy Davidson is another critical piece.
Davidson does everything that you’d want him to do, which also shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s the everything man for the Braves. Clean up on the glass, get into passing lanes, facilitate on offensive set, be a gnat defensively and when the time comes, put the ball into the basket. Call it stereotypical for me to say but Jimmy really does seem like a player that combines the key attributes of his four older brothers and what they brought to their Blackhawk Christian teams. But he should; he watched them all unfold up close and personal. He rebounds the ball well (5.9/game) and is great for the Braves because when needed he can get that board and go with it, creating instant offense in the process.
Where there is a spot on any given night that needs extra attention, Davidson fills the role and adapts his game to make sure of it. And I love that.
Junior Aiden Muldoon rounds out the usual six for the Braves. He’s quick, he’s intelligent and you can tell, like Davidson, that he has that adaptive quality of “tell me what to do and I will do it.” Intangibles are keys to winning games and, in my opinion, to winning titles. You don’t get here without Muldoon and his tenacity.
And there are more, when needed that add to the diversity of Blackhawk Christian’s cast of characters. Senior Victor Hoya just wants to win and he shows that leadership even when he isn’t on the floor. Juniors Will Guthrie and Brennan Miller are great for depth, both as guys who can fight around the rim and Miller with another solid shooting threat.
Diversity has been key for the Braves for years and years and years. It will be no different on Saturday when they face Linton-Stockton. This team has been fantastic to watch as they write their own tale and their willingness to adapt is the reason why they have prospered so much and have the chance to cut down nets one more time this weekend.
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